Life Without Parole
Inside the secretive world of parole boards, where your freedom may depend on politics and whim.
by Beth Schwartzapfel, The Marshall Project*
Reynaldo Rodriguez was 19 with a young son, a good job and no criminal record when he shot and killed a man. As part of an ongoing family feud, someone – Rodriguez believed it was a man named Robert Cuellar – had shot at Rodriguez’s mother and brother. Then Cuellar slapped Rodriguez’s sister.
“I just blew a fuse,” Rodriguez says now of killing Cuellar.
In 1977 he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and the judge gave him a choice: A sentence of 15 to 30 years would probably mean parole in 12. A life sentence would make him parole-eligible in 10 years.
Rodriguez chose life. At his sentencing, Saginaw County (Michigan) Judge Gary McDonald made it clear that this was “not the mandatory natural life imprisonment sentence” and said that if Rodriguez was a “model prisoner,” McDonald would recommend release in 10 years.
Thirty-seven years later, Rodriguez is still behind bars.
America’s prisons hold tens of thousands of people like Rodriguez – people primarily confined not by the verdicts of a judge or ...
Legislation Removes Secrecy from Georgia Parole Board’s Proceedings, Decisions
by David M. Reutter
Unlike any other state agency, Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles (GBPP) makes its major decisions behind closed doors, and virtually all the information contained in its files is considered a “confidential state secret.”
That secrecy was subjected to public scrutiny due to an increase in the number of decisions to restore firearm rights to offenders with convictions for murder, rape and child molestation. According to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the GBPP granted gun rights to 666 offenders in 2013 – a ten-fold increase from the number of such grants in 2008. Of those, gun rights restored to violent offenders jumped from 6% to 31%.
In making determinations on petitions for restoration of firearm rights, as well as parole and pardon decisions, the GBPP’s five members, appointed by the governor, do not even meet. According to one former member, a file prepared by a board staff person is passed among the members. As soon as a majority decides to vote one way the matter is decided, meaning two members might never see the file; in fact, the GBPP members may not even know how ...
From the Editor
by Paul Wright
Since PLN first began publishing in 1990 we have reported on parole systems and their inherent arbitrariness and cruelty. Today there is a lot of rhetoric about a “liberal-conservative alliance” on criminal justice issues and the need for reform. This is hardly the first time such talk has been heard, and parole reform is a cautionary tale of how reform is not necessarily always for the better.
By the middle of the 1970s the prisoners’ rights movement was widely critical of the entire parole system, which was rightly viewed as racist, classist and especially punitive to jailhouse lawyers and other prisoners who challenged the prison system. Right-wingers were unhappy with parole, which they viewed as letting too many prisoners (especially informants) out of prison early to commit more crimes. While there was talk of ending parole, few jurisdictions actually did so. Some states – including Washington, California and Minnesota, as well as the federal prison system – eliminated or restricted discretionary parole, which had the immediate net effect of lengthening sentences. Prisoners were then subjected to “community supervision” for years on end following their release. Where discretionary parole remains it largely exists in name ...
Delaware: Drop in Prison Phone Rates Called a “Drop in the Bucket”
by Derek Gilna
Delaware’s prison phone rates will be reduced as a result of a new contract entered into between the state Department of Correction (DOC) and Global Tel*Link (GTL) that will run from July 21, 2015 through June 30, 2018. Rates for local calls will drop from $1.22 to $.85 per call, while intrastate (in-state) rates will be reduced from $3.20 to $2.29 for a 15-minute call and rates for interstate (long distance) calls will drop from $3.75 to $2.70 for a 15-minute collect call or $2.25 for debit and prepaid calls.
Although prisoners’ rights groups like Dover-based Citizens for Criminal Justice were happy the phone rates were reduced, one advocate called the lower rates a “drop in the bucket” – just one of many inflated charges that prisoners and their families must bear.
“It’s good to see a move in the right direction,” said the organization’s director, Kenneth Abraham, a former Deputy Attorney General who served time in prison on a drug charge. “But it still seems too high and could be lower.”
The DOC’s rates for ...
Is Texas Poisoning Prisoners with Contaminated Water?
by Panagioti Tsolkas
When the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) named a prison unit after the late warden Wallace Pack they should have guessed it would have a problem with water, as he once did. In 1981, Pack was drowned by a prisoner amid a high point of corruption in the Texas prison system. Pack’s death came just months after U.S. District Court Judge William Justice released his landmark decision in Ruiz v. Estelle, blasting Texas prisons for overcrowding, questionable medical practices and extreme brutality. Today the TDCJ is facing allegations of a different type of scandal: failing to protect prisoners from arsenic-tainted water.
Formerly incarcerated at the Wallace Pack Unit, Craig A. Converse, now a paralegal, is working to address long-standing violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A year before being paroled, Converse was transferred to the Pack Unit in Grimes County near Navasota. It was well into the spring months, the temperatures were high and he was often thirsty. He came to find out that prisoners at the Pack Unit were well-acquainted with thirst.
The TDCJ’s Pack Unit opened in 1983; it is currently a Type I geriatric ...
Mandamus Improper Remedy to Challenge Illinois DOC’s “Violating at the Door” Policy
by David Reutter
On November 20, 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to assume jurisdiction over a petition for writ of mandamus seeking to declare the state prison system’s practice of “violating at the door” unconstitutional. The rationale for the Court’s inaction was that the plaintiff failed to establish a clear right to mandamus.
The petition was filed by former prisoner Johnny Cordrey, who was sentenced in 1993 to 36 years in prison for aggravated criminal sexual assault plus a concurrent 30-year term for kidnapping. He also received a three-year term of mandatory supervised release (MSR).
The Prisoner Review Board entered an order in November 2012 imposing anger management, sex offender and outpatient mental health conditions on Cordrey’s MSR. The Board further required him to register as a sex offender with victim notification and electronic monitoring for the duration of his MSR term.
On the day of his scheduled release, April 12, 2013, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) issued a parole violation stating Cordrey had violated his parole because he had no suitable host site – a post-release residence – where he could serve his MSR. Cordrey’s ...
Texas County Pays Prisoner’s Family $214,500 for Wrongful Death
For two days in August 2011, Shawn Appell beat his head against a wall in his cell at the Llano County, Texas jail as guards Scottie Bryan Scoggins and Donny Stewart listened to the sounds of his self-inflicted injuries but ...
Prisoners Pay Millions to Call Loved Ones Every Year. Now this Company Wants Even More
by Ben Walsh, Huffington Post
A captive market, no competition and government contracts that make monopoly-enabled price gouging the industry standard – it’s never been in doubt that the prison phone business is a very profitable model.
A presentation that the privately-held prison telecom company Securus made to investors that The Huffington Post obtained shows just how much money there is to be made as the state-sanctioned middleman between prisoners and the outside world: $404.6 million last year alone.
Securus, which provides phone services to 2,600 prisons and jails in 47 states, made $114.6 million in profit on that revenue in 2014. Securus’ gross profit margin – a measure of the difference between the cost to provide its services, and what it charges for them – was a whopping 51 percent. And Securus, with a 20 percent market share, isn’t even the biggest prison phone company. That would be Global Tel*Link, or GTL, which has a 50 percent market share, the New York Times reported. GTL drew national attention for its prominent role in the 2014 viral podcast Serial.
While Securus ...
Jails in Trouble as IRS Investigates Tax-Exempt Bonds
by Matt Clarke
Jails financed with tax-exempt revenue bonds, including numerous facilities in Texas, are scrambling to sell or refinance their debt following investigations by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) into whether the bonds are properly classified as tax exempt. County officials in some jurisdictions, meanwhile, are struggling to keep their jails solvent after the private prison companies that operated them pulled out when the IRS began examining the bonds.
The tax-exempt bond investigations stem from a regulation which requires no more than 10% of the payments for bond debt service to come from private parties for the bonds to retain their tax-exempt status. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) often pay local jails to house prisoners and, under tax laws, the federal government is considered a private party – hence the threat to the tax-exempt status of bonds issued to build facilities that hold federal prisoners. When a jail’s population exceeds the 10% limit for revenue generated by housing federal prisoners, the bonds are considered taxable private-activity bonds. The rules are designed to prevent local officials from making money by renting out ...
Nevada: Federal Suit over Shackling of Pregnant Prisoner Settles for $130,000 and Policy Changes
by Matt Clarke
On February 4, 2014, the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) settled a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a former prisoner who was shackled during her pregnancy. The Board of State Prison ...
BOP Ordered to Pay Prisoner’s Attorneys $41,703 for Discovery Abuses
by Derek Gilna
Federal prisoner Randall Todd Royer, also known as Ismail Royer, has engaged in a long legal battle with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) related to his conditions of confinement, stemming from the BOP classifying him as ...
British Banking Giant Fined for Laundering Mexican Drug Money Through U.S. Banks
by Matt Clarke
In December 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) fined major British bank HSBC almost $2 billion following an investigation that found HSBC was being used by Mexican cartels to launder drug money by transferring billions of dollars from its Mexican affiliates into U.S. banks. In addition to the fine, the huge financial conglomerate pledged to do what it can to improve its monitoring of suspected money laundering transactions.
In announcing the settlement, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer defended the government’s decision not to file criminal charges against HSBC or any of its officials, even though the bank admitted to violating laws that included the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act, because lengthy and complex criminal proceedings could cause the bank to fail, which in turn could spell disaster for the British and global economies.
Justice Department officials had accused HSBC – Europe’s largest bank by market capitalization – of failing to monitor $670 billion in wire transfers and $9.4 billion in cash that was transferred from its operations in Mexico to its U.S ...
Two Reports Find at Least 54 Countries Complicit in Secret CIA Prisons
by Matt Clarke
The Central Intelligence Agency operated a network of prisons around the globe where suspected terrorists were routinely tortured, and in some cases the agency secured funding for foreign governments to pave the way for greater cooperation, including turning a blind eye to the alleged abuses, according to a recently-released U.S. Senate report.
The interrogation tactics employed by the CIA were “far more brutal than people were led to believe” and “coercive techniques regularly resulted in fabricated information” from prisoners, said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein.
The heavily censored Senate report, released on December 9, 2014, reaffirmed a 2013 study published by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) that concluded at least 54 nations around the world had provided assistance to the CIA in detaining, interrogating and transporting prisoners. Both reports dealt with the CIA’s treatment of detainees between 2001 and 2009.
“The moral cost of these programs was borne not just by the U.S., but by the 54 other countries it recruited to help,” stated Amrit Singh, an OSJI attorney and author of the organization’s report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention ...
Alabama: Settlement to Integrate HIV-Positive Prisoners Finalized
by David M. Reutter
An Alabama federal district court has approved a settlement that integrates HIV-positive prisoners into the state prison system’s general population, finding it “fair, adequate, and reasonable.” The change in the status of HIV-positive prisoners came after decades of ...
Former New York Prisoner Receives $3,375,000 Settlement for Wrongful Conviction
by Derek Gilna
A New York man who was the victim of egregious police misconduct obtained a $3.375 million settlement from the State of New York after serving 17 years in prison for two murders he did ...
Mental Health Care in South Carolina Prisons Found Unconstitutional
by David M. Reutter
On January 8, 2014, a South Carolina state court entered judgment in a decade-long class-action lawsuit, finding that mental health care in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) exposed seriously mentally ill prisoners to a substantial risk of harm, and that the SCDC knew about such deficiencies but “failed to take reasonable measures to abate that risk.”
Since the class-action suit was filed in 2005 the SCDC has fought it “tooth and nail,” spending “hundreds of thousands of tax dollars,” Judge J. Michael Baxley wrote. That money “would be better expended to improve mental health services delivery in SCDC,” he noted.
“The evidence in this case has proved that inmates have died in the South Carolina Department of Corrections for lack of basic mental health care, and hundreds more remain substantially at risk for serious physical injury, mental decompensation, and profound, permanent mental illness,” Judge Baxley stated following a five-week trial. “As a society, and as citizen jurors and judges make decisions that send people to prison, we have the reasonable expectation that those in prison – even though it is ...
$290,000 Judgment for Failure to Treat Ruptured Appendix Affirmed
by David Reutter
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a $290,000 judgment in a civil rights action alleging deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s serious medical needs. The appellate court’s order affirmed a Louisiana federal district court judgment ...
On February 13, 2013, in an amended ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for the estate of a deceased mentally ill prisoner, finding the district court had improperly excluded admissible testimony and a rebuttal closing argument.
Eric Vogel had been severely mentally ill since age ...
Social Impact Bonds in Criminal Justice: A Deal We Can’t Refuse?
by Jennifer R. Zelnick, MSW, ScD
Over the past several years there has been a lot of buzz about Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). More recently criticisms have emerged, along with early results of SIB projects. This article will examine existing SIBs in the criminal justice context, and raise some concerns.
What are SIBs? SIBs – known also as “pay for success” – are not bonds but complex, multi-stakeholder loans between government agencies, investors, intermediaries, service providers and evaluators in which an investor provides up-front funding for a specific project chosen to produce a specific, cost-saving outcome. If certain benchmarks are met, up-front loan money is re-paid with interest; if outcomes exceed pre-determined levels of success, pay for success payments are triggered that increase investor rewards. The “cashable” cost savings are key, because they are presumably the source of revenue used to pay back the investors. SIBs have been touted as useful in areas where government funds are tied up in remediation to the exclusion of funding prevention programs. (This describes the general model of SIBs in the United States, though there are variations).
Advocates of SIBs speak of their ...
Federal Court Orders Cameras to Cover Blind Spots at North Carolina Prison
by David Reutter
On August 22, 2013, a North Carolina federal district court ordered attorneys representing the state prison system to present a plan to ensure adequate security camera coverage at the Central Prison in Raleigh. The court’s order was aimed at preventing incidents like those alleged in an ongoing lawsuit brought by eight prisoners held in solitary confinement.
The suit claims that guards handcuff and shackle prisoners and remove them from their segregation cells in Unit One to take them to the “desert” – blind spots outside the view of security cameras – to administer severe beatings. In some cases, the beatings result in broken bones and other serious injuries.
For example, one of the plaintiffs, prisoner Jerome Peters, claimed that on December 3, 2012 he was being escorted back to his solitary confinement cell when he was diverted to a “desert” area. Once off camera, a guard hit him in the jaw while another grabbed his leg to pull him to the ground. A third guard then joined in.
While handcuffed behind his back, Peters said he was kicked, stomped and beaten as the guards shackled ...
Oregon Workgroup Recommends Strategies to Deal with Prison Medical Care Costs
by Mark Wilson
State officials in Oregon continue to grapple with the rising cost of prisoner health care, which largely stems from a rapidly-expanding population of elderly prisoners who have costly physical and mental health care needs.
Over the past decade, the share of the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODOC) budget devoted to medical care has ballooned to $203.9 million, part of a whopping 39% jump in overall prison spending according to ODOC spokeswoman Liz Craig. Nearly all of the prison system’s biennial budget is paid from the state’s tax-supported general fund.
“It is not diminishing; it is growing,” said state Senator Jackie Winters, who co-chairs the Oregon legislature’s budget subcommittee on public safety. Just 10 years ago, Oregon spent $50.4 million on prisoner health care. [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.16].
“It was one thing when we had only a couple of institutions and everyone was housed here in Salem,” said Winters. “It’s another thing to have 14 ‘cities’ with 14,000 inmates.”
In response to the increase in medical expenses, the legislature created a Workgroup on Corrections Health Care Costs to examine ...
Rejecting Foreign Language Letters after Interpretation May Violate Prisoner’s Rights
by David M. Reutter
A Michigan federal district court denied summary judgment to prison officials in a civil rights action involving First Amendment violations. State prisoner Ali Musaid Muthana alleged that his incoming and outgoing mail was destroyed because it ...
$400,000 Settlement in New Jersey Juvenile Solitary Confinement Suit
by Derek Gilna
In December 2013, the Juvenile Law Center, a non-profit public interest law firm based in Philadelphia, won a $400,000 settlement on behalf of two adolescents who spent months in solitary confinement in New Jersey’s juvenile justice ...
Illinois Supreme Court Affirms Supervised Release Period Despite Sentencing Omission
by Derek Gilna
The Illinois Supreme Court has affirmed the imposition of a period of mandatory supervised release (MSR) that was inadvertently omitted from a sentence by the trial court. Billy McChriston was convicted in 2004 of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, a Class 1 felony that carried a mandatory Class X sentence. Although he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, the trial court did not include any provision for MSR as required by the Illinois Unified Code of Corrections, 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(d).
McChriston appealed his conviction but did not raise the lack of MSR at that time. He later filed a post-judgment petition attacking other parts of the proceeding, but again did not raise the MSR issue. Both his appeal and petition were denied, and both denials were affirmed by the appellate court.
Finally, in 2011, McChriston filed a 2-1401 petition to correct his judgment and also to bar the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) from adding a three-year MSR term to his 25-year sentence absent a court order. That petition was also dismissed and the dismissal affirmed on appeal, but this time McChriston appealed to ...
Vermont Newspaper Defends Hiring Reporter with Sex Offense Conviction
by Matt Clarke
The publisher of a Vermont newspaper and its sister publication defended the hiring of a registered sex offender as a reporter covering the police and court beats after facing criticism from a rival paper and national media watchdog group. That criticism included whether the newspaper was transparent in hiring Eric Blaisdell and whether he could be impartial when covering stories involving sex crimes or minors.
“The implication that we have been less than transparent is ridiculous and downright wrong,” insisted R. John Mitchell, publisher of the Vermont-based Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and Rutland Herald. “We have acted and will continue to act in the best interests of our community, our integrity and the rights of our employees.”
The story first came to light when Times Argus competitor Seven Days, a free, independent weekly based in Burlington, Vermont, published a story in late November 2012 calling the Times Argus to task for not disclosing to readers that Blaisdell had been arrested in 2007, when he was 21 years old, “for soliciting sex with a 13-year-old girl” in an online chat room during “an Internet sex sting.” Seven ...
Former Illinois Drug Court Judge Gets Prison Time Following Fellow Judge’s Fatal Overdose
by Joe Watson
A former judge over an Illinois drug court is serving a federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to drug and weapons charges in connection with the 2013 death of a fellow judge from a cocaine overdose. An Illinois probation worker charged in the same case is serving a five-year prison term after pleading guilty to selling drugs to the two jurists.
Former St. Claire County, Illinois judge Michael Cook, 43, began serving a two-year sentence at a federal minimum-security prison in Pensacola, Florida on May 28, 2014. Cook pleaded guilty in November 2013 to a misdemeanor charge of distributing heroin and one felony count of possessing firearms while under the influence of a controlled substance. His arrest came two months after fellow judge Joe Christ was found dead of a cocaine overdose while on a camping trip with Cook.
Christ, a 49-year-old father of six, was discovered in the bathroom of the 2,500-square-foot Cook family cabin near the Mississippi River in western Illinois, not far from the village of Pleasant Hill. His March 10, 2013 death came only a little more than a ...
How U.S. Prison Officials Rubberstamped a CIA Torture Chamber
by Carl Takei, ACLU National Prison Project
The CIA’s chief interrogator called it “the closest thing he has seen to a dungeon.”
At the agency’s COBALT detention site in Afghanistan – also known as the “Salt Pit” – detainees were kept in total darkness, shackled to the floors or walls of their cells, and given buckets to dispose of their own waste. One senior interrogator later told the CIA’s inspector general that a detainee “could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him.”Studieshave concluded that such isolation has profound psychological impacts. It’s no surprise the interrogator said detainees “cowered” whenever their cell doors were opened. Even though the Salt Pit was closed in 2004, the horrors that took place there stand as examples of the CIA program’s inhumanity.
In a little-noticed section of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released in December 2014, Senate investigators described how the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the federal prison system, gave a green light to this dungeon.
In November 2002, just a few months after it opened, the CIA invited a BOP inspection team to assess the ...
Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin Sex Offender Registration Fee, Names John Doe Plaintiffs
by Derek Gilna
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s ruling that found Wisconsin’s statute for sex offender registration, notification and monitoring violated constitutional ex post facto provisions. The plaintiffs, two sex offenders who were convicted prior to the enactment of the state’s new registration and monitoring law, challenged the imposition of a $100 annual registration fee required by the statute, terming it a “fine.”
The district court found that such a fine “cannot constitutionally be imposed on persons who committed their sex crimes before the fee provision was enacted,” but upheld the law’s other registration requirements. Judge Richard Posner, writing for the Seventh Circuit panel, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously rejected ex post facto challenges to sex offender registration statutes, citing Smith v. Doe, 38 U.S. 84 (2003) as well as similar decisions from the Ninth, Sixth and Third Circuits.
The appellate court also found a lack of standing by the plaintiffs, who no longer resided in Wisconsin and had expressed their intent never to return to that state. Although Wisconsin officials insisted they still had ...
Prison Legal News Wins FOIA Appeal Against BOP
by Derek Gilna
The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) hates publicity and hates revealing information about its operations to the general public. Recently, however, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck a blow for transparency by finding the BOP had failed to properly comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Prison Legal News over a decade ago.
According to a June 5, 2015 statement by PLN editor Paul Wright, “Today the DC Circuit ... ruled unanimously in PLN’s favor that the BOP had improperly withheld documents and information related to the [agency’s] litigation payouts over a multiyear period.”
Specifically, PLN had submitted a FOIA request in 2003 for copies of the verdicts, settlements or releases in cases involving the BOP that resulted in monetary payments of $1,000 or more, as well as the related complaints or claims, from 1996 to 2003. The BOP initially refused to comply with the request or grant a fee waiver until PLN filed suit, then produced over 10,000 pages of documents that contained almost 3,000 redactions. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.21; June 2009, p.26; Sept. 2006, p.15 ...
Fourth Circuit Finds Strip Searches and Delousing of Arrestees Constitutional
by Lonnie Burton
On November 14, 2014, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the defendants in a case brought by two former prisoners who alleged that strip search and delousing procedures at two regional jails violated the Fourth Amendment.
The consolidated case involved prisoners booked into different jails in West Virginia. Michael Cantley was arrested in 2008 on a domestic violence charge and committed by a magistrate to the Western Regional Jail. Upon entering the facility, Cantley was rebellious and placed in a restraint chair. After he calmed down, he was released from the chair and given a visual strip search by a male guard. The guard then used a spray bottle to apply a delousing solution to Cantley’s body; after showering, he was placed in a holding cell in the general housing area.
Floyd Teter was arrested in 2010 for littering and obstructing an officer. He did not see a magistrate and was brought directly to the Tygart Valley Regional Jail. Teter was then visually strip searched by a male guard, who used a “garden sprayer to apply delousing solution to the hairy areas of ...
Seventh Circuit: New Trial for Wrong Legal Standard in Jail Death Case
by Mark Wilson
In an amended decision on August 14, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held a district court had abused its discretion when it required an inadequate medical care claim involving the death of a pretrial detainee to be tried under an incorrect legal standard.
As previously reported in PLN, John King suffered from asthma, diabetes, a heart condition, high blood pressure, seizures, and severe anxiety and other mental health issues when he was booked into Wisconsin’s La Crosse County Jail on April 7, 2007. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.24].
King entered the jail with “two grocery bags full of his medications, including a bottle with 115 one-milligram tablets of alprazolam, a benzodiazepine.” He was taking “five milligrams of alprazolam” a day. Without examining King, a jail doctor instructed nurses by phone to wean him off the alprazolam over a three-day period.
That was “a dangerously rapid reduction” given the dosage King was taking. “Abrupt withdrawal from alprazolam can be life-threatening; associated symptoms include agitation, elevated blood pressure, elevated pulse, tremors, delusions, hallucinations and seizures. The severity of such symptoms requires medical providers ...
Washington Prisoner Granted Injunction Ordering Outside Orthopedic Evaluation
by Mark Wilson
A Washington federal district court issued a preliminary injunction ordering prison officials to have an orthopedic specialist evaluate a prisoner’s shoulder injury.
Washington prisoner Shawn Francis began complaining of shoulder pain in February 2007. After six months of ineffective treatment efforts, he was referred to Dr. James Swenson, an outside orthopedic specialist. In September 2007, Dr. Swenson recommended an MRI and other treatment; however, the prison medical director refused to authorize an MRI.
Francis saw Dr. Swenson again in February 2008. Noting that “he previously thought [Francis] had an acromioclavicular joint injury,” the doctor again recommended an MRI to rule out a rotator cuff or labral pathology.
An April 2008 MRI revealed “osteoarthritic changes at the acromioclavicular joint and a small anterior labral tear.” Francis declined further treatment at that time.
Francis re-injured his shoulder in March 2011. When steroid medication proved ineffectual, he was referred for physical therapy. Four months later, however, the physical therapist concluded “No improvement. Needs ortho. consult.” Despite that recommendation and medical staff noting five months of increasing pain, the prison’s Care Review Committee denied the referral for a consultation.
Court Denies Challenge to D.C. Sex Offender’s Website on Registry Officials
A website that “registers” and posts photos of government employees who work in the District of Columbia’s sex offender registration office is protected by the First Amendment, a D.C. Superior Court held in a February 14, 2014 memorandum opinion.
Dennis Sobin, a convicted sex offender, is required to register every three months with the D.C. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), and his picture is posted on the District’s sex offender registry. Sobin, 70, spent over ten years in prison for using a minor while filming a pornographic movie, though he is not your run-of-the-mill pornographer.
Following his release he founded the non-profit Prisons Foundation and Safe Streets Art Foundation, which sell artwork created by prisoners. The foundations also maintain a D.C. art gallery and sponsor programs at the Kennedy Center; they have received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. [See: PLN, March 2007, p.19].
Using his creative skills, Sobin designed a website called the Idiots Registry and posted a list of employees responsible for enforcing the District’s sex offender registry. “Here ...
Terrorism Suspect Moves to Suppress Statements Made to FBI due to Torture Threats
by Matt Clarke
A former British citizen with ties to the U.S.-designated terrorist group al-Shabaab asked a court to suppress statements he gave to FBI agents on the grounds that he was illegally pressured into making them after facing threats of torture by local authorities in the eastern African nation of Djibouti, where he and two co-defendants were arrested.
Madhi Hashi, 25, was accused “of conspiring to provide material support to al-Shabaab, ... providing material support to al-Shabaab, and with using firearms during and in relation to violent crimes.” The Somali-born Hashi was arrested on August 4, 2012 along with Ali Yasin Ahmed, 30, and Mohamed Yusuf, 32, on the terrorism-related charges; they were later extradited to the United States to face federal prosecution.
Hashi said he was repeatedly threatened with physical and sexual abuse if he did not “cooperate with the Americans” following his arrest. He also alleged that in interrogations first conducted by Djiboutian law enforcement authorities, he witnessed Ahmed being hung “upside down from his ankles. He was gagged, blindfolded and beaten.” Hashi claimed he could hear other prisoners being beaten ...
Vice President’s Son Discharged from Navy Due to Drug Use
by Christopher Zoukis
In an embarrassing coda to Vice President Joe Biden’s long career as one of the chief architects of the War on Drugs, one of his sons was booted from the U.S. Navy after testing positive for cocaine.
Hunter Biden, 45, the younger of the Vice President’s two sons, was commissioned as an ensign in May 2013; an attorney and a managing partner at an investment firm, he had received a direct commission. After a short training course he was assigned to a Naval Reserve duty post as a public affairs officer in a Norfolk, Virginia-based unit. His career in the Navy did not last long.
Within a month, Hunter tested positive for cocaine; he was dishonorably discharged in February 2014, though his discharge was not publicly reported until October. Hunter had enlisted with a waiver based on his age and a second waiver due to a previous drug-related charge.
“It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge,” he said, adding, “I respect the Navy’s decision. With the ...
Michigan: Perjured Testimony at Trial Results in Habeas Relief, but Reversed on Appeal
by David M. Reutter
A Michigan federal district court ordered the immediate release of a man convicted in a “sham” trial that involved the police, prosecutor and a trial judge who knowingly allowed witnesses to perjure themselves. The court’s grant of habeas relief also found the state court had denied the defendant’s right to counsel of his choice. The Sixth Circuit, however, disagreed and reversed.
Alexander Aceval was convicted of possession with intent to deliver 1,000 or more grams of cocaine. He was arrested on March 11, 2005 after police officers Robert McArthur, Scott Rechtzigel and others conducted surveillance on a bar as a result of information obtained from confidential informant (CI) Chad W. Povish.
The officers were informed by Povish that Aceval had offered him $5,000 to drive drugs from Detroit to Chicago. They watched three individuals load two black duffel bags into the back of Povish’s car.
Before trial, Aceval requested that the CI be identified, which compelled Judge Mary Waterstone to conduct an in camera interview of McArthur. It was revealed that McArthur and Rechtzigel both knew Povish was the CI, and ...
Automatic Placement of Death Row Prisoner in Segregation Does Not Violate Due Process
by David M. Reutter
A Virginia federal district court held in November 2013 that automatic and indefinite placement of a death-sentenced prisoner in solitary confinement constitutes a deprivation of liberty without due process of law. The state appealed, and the Fourth Circuit reversed.
The district court’s ruling came in a civil rights action brought by Virginia death row prisoner Alfredo Prieto. The case originally included an Eighth Amendment challenge to the prohibition on virtually all contact visits for death row prisoners. That claim was dismissed, leaving only a Fourteenth Amendment claim challenging the automatic placement of death-sentenced prisoners into segregation.
On that claim, the district court said the conditions on death row were “uniquely severe” and “undeniably extreme and atypical of conditions in the general population units at” Sussex I State Prison (SISP).
Those conditions included being held in a cell for nearly 23 hours a day, continuous cell lighting, only five hours of recreation per week in an area slightly larger than Prieto’s cell, no ability to see the sky, and deprivation of most forms of human contact. “His only real break from the monotony owes ...
Tennessee Jail Considers Charging for Toilet Paper, Underwear
by Christopher Zoukis
On August 19, 2013, commissioners in Anderson County, Tennessee approved a resolution authorizing an expansion of pay-to-stay fees at the county jail. The resolution included a $50 daily fee for prisoners serving misdemeanor sentences, the removal of the existing $500 fee cap, and charging detainees new fees for items such as toilet paper, soap, bras, underwear, towels and other items.
The resolution, drafted by the county’s law director, Jay Yeager, was passed uncontested by the commissioners. The county recouped more than $100,000 through daily jail fees in 2012, which led to an interest in generating additional revenue from prisoners.
Under the resolution, prisoners can be charged for a variety of things, including pants ($9.15); shirts ($7.59); female gowns ($6.90); underwear ($0.75); female underwear ($0.71); bras ($1.72); socks ($0.72); shoes ($3.26); towels ($1.15); wash rags ($0.13); coats ($24.65); mattress covers ($5.40); blankets ($6.26); toothbrushes ($0.04); toothpaste ($0.05); deodorant ($1.15); soap ($0.03); toilet paper ($0.29); razors ($0.04); and sanitary napkins ($0.05).
The notion that prisoners may be required to pay ...
ACLU Awarded $50 Million to Help End Mass Incarceration
by Christopher Zoukis
On November 7, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it had received the largest grant in the organization’s history: $50 million from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. The donation will fund an eight-year campaign to slash America’s incarceration rate and reduce its prison population, which is the largest in the world.
The grant was made to the ACLU’s political arm, not to the organization’s larger, litigation-based program. The funds will be used to pay for media ads and finance political action committees to donate money to candidates. The announcement of the grant, which is not tax-deductible, came on the heels of a successful ballot measure in California – Prop 47 – that downgraded many low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The measure was aided by $3.5 million in support from the ACLU.
Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, said the goal of the Soros-funded campaign will be to reduce the U.S. prison population by 50 percent by 2020.
“I think you see a growing consensus that the criminal justice system in America is broken and this is a time to try new approaches,” ...
Illinois University Faculty Member and PLN Contributor Fights for His Job after Opposing New County Jail
by Joe Watson
In 2013, James Kilgore’s activism against a proposed new jail in Champaign, Illinois saved his community millions of dollars in construction costs and educated local residents on the profit motives of mass incarceration. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.44]. In return, he was targeted and temporarily lost his job as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Illinois.
Kilgore – a respected educator, writer, criminal justice activist and occasional Prison Legal News contributor – became the target of a smear campaign by a Champaign paper, the News-Gazette, shortly after he successfully opposed the proposed jail.
The smear campaign began when the News-Gazette ran a lengthy article on Kilgore’s felony convictions, his political activities with the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in the 1970s, and the nearly 30 years he spent on the run living in Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa under an assumed identity. None of which was anything new, as it had been reported by numerous news media agencies more than a decade earlier.
Like many other radical groups in the 1960s and 70s, the SLA dedicated itself to overthrowing ...
Seventh Circuit Reverses Verdict when Prisoner Not Allowed to Poll Jury
by Derek Gilna
Illinois state prisoner Glenn Verser had been on a hunger strike when he claimed he was beaten by guards at the Western Correctional Center in September 2007 while involved in a cell transfer. He promptly filed a § 1983 federal civil rights action that went to trial in the Central District of Illinois, where a jury found for the defendants. That was not the end of the case, though. Due to the district court’s post-verdict procedural errors, the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial.
Prisoners face many practical and procedural hurdles when pursuing a pro se lawsuit, as reflected in the proceedings in this case. After the close of evidence at trial, the district court judge ordered Verser back to prison and he was removed from the courtroom before he could make any post-trial motions, including a request to poll the jury. That, the Court of Appeals found, violated federal court rules.
In most cases the error might have gone unnoticed, especially since Verser, who had been acting as his own attorney, was no longer in the courtroom to witness what transpired in ...
Liability against Taser for Negligence Upheld but $5.5 Million Damages Award Reversed
by David M. Reutter
In November 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury’s finding that Taser International was liable for negligence in the death of a teenager tased by a police officer. However, the appellate court reversed a $5.5 million damages award and ordered a new trial on damages. The case subsequently settled under confidential terms.
The appellate ruling resulted from a lawsuit over the March 20, 2008 death of 17-year-old Darryl W. Turner at a supermarket in Charlotte, North Carolina. As previously reported in PLN, police were called to the store when Turner became loud and disruptive after he was fired.
When he refused to follow a police officer’s order to “calm down,” the officer discharged two darts from an X26 taser into Turner’s chest. The officer held the trigger down for 37 seconds, releasing it five seconds after Turner collapsed to the ground. Turner was unresponsive and experiencing ventricular fibrillation when paramedics arrived; he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
His estate sued Taser, alleging negligence for failing to provide an adequate warning of the dangers of discharging a ...
By James Kilgore, Truthout
Likely the most well-known prison profiteers in the United States are the Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group. Between them, these two firms pulled in about $3.3 billion last year running scores of private prisons and immigration detention centers.
However, these two firms are not alone in feasting at the trough of corrections expenditures. Many other companies, most of them off the popular radar, are also benefiting from epidemic prison and jail building. Some may even be operating in your neighborhood. Here we’ll do a quick sketch of several such companies, outline their activities, ponder their deeds of infamy and reflect a little on how to curtail their profiteering.
Turner Construction: If We Build it They Will Come
Let’s start with the construction sector. Prison construction managers don’t come with a tool box and a pick-up. They are world-class operators. The largest player in this field is New York-based Turner Construction, a subsidiary of the German giant Hochtief.
According to IBISWorld, Turner’s average annual income for prison and jail construction came to $278 million per year from 2007 to 2012. This represents lots of money in most quarters, but qualifies as only ...
Texas Prisoner Held in Prison 35 Years after Conviction Vacated
by Matt Clarke
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas denied a bid to halt the retrial of a mentally challenged prisoner whose original conviction was overturned but who remained incarcerated almost 35 years later. In ruling against Jerry Hartfield, the federal court cleared the way for his retrial to proceed in August 2015.
Hartfield, 59, was convicted of the 1976 murder of a 55-year-old ticket agent at a bus station in Bay City, Texas. The body of Eunice J. Lowe was found in the bus station’s storeroom; she had been beaten to death with a pickaxe handle, stabbed with a glass bottle and raped. Her car and several thousand dollars were stolen. Despite proclaiming his innocence, Hartfield, a mentally impaired black man with an IQ below 70, was convicted at trial and sentenced to death on June 30, 1977.
Three years later, in September 1980, the verdict was overturned on the grounds that prosecutors violated the Constitution when striking a juror from hearing the case because the juror expressed reservations about the death penalty. After Hartfield’s attorneys challenged the prosecutors’ actions, the Texas Court of ...
News in Brief
Alabama: Ricky Deangelo Hinkle, 47, began threatening other prisoners and disrupting the lunch meal at the Jefferson County Jail on September 11, 2014. As jailers were placing him in a segregation cell, he allegedly started to fight. A guard then used his Taser on Hinkle, who immediately fell to the ground and was unresponsive. Medical personnel eventually responded along with paramedics, but they were unable to revive him. He was transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Arizona: In January 2015, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper was discovered to have a live-in boyfriend, Michael Kent Krause. While that is not typically a big deal, Krause, a convicted sex offender, was arrested at Cooper’s central Phoenix home on a warrant for being a fugitive from justice. When the judge was contacted for a statement she said, “I was shocked when I learned of the allegations.... I had no knowledge of any of the charges against him. I have no further relationship with Mr. Krause, and he no longer resides at my residence.” Interestingly, though, the attorney who represented Krause at his bail hearing, Phoenix attorney Michael Morrissey, earned his undergraduate and law school ...